Farmers raise €70,000 to challenge Department on land eligibility

A group of farmers, known as the Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge, are set to take the Department to court in the coming weeks over land eligibility concerns.

According to the Chairman of the group, Dermot Kelleher, over €70,000 has already been raised in a national fundraising drive and he says much more, which has been pledged, is yet to be collected.

“We suspended the fundraising in recent weeks as we are all farmers and it’s busy at this time of the year.

“But we have €70,000 collected. The money is being held in the Disadvantaged Farmers Legal Challenge account in TSB bank Macroom.

“And a lot more has been pleged. There will be no problem with money.

“The harder they are on poor people, the easier it is to get money,” he said.

Land eligibility fines are the key issue for the group and Kelleher says some 33,000 farmers are affected and the fines to date have targeted farming families on marginal land.

Kelleher says a legal case must be taken to protect the future of such farmers and generations to come.

He said the group are currently forming a company of 2,000 signatures and 10-12 named farmers for the case.

Kelleher says the case will be logged in the next month to six weeks.

€181m land eligibility fine

Discussions are continuing in Europe over the European Commission’s decision to fine Ireland €181m over land eligibility irregularities.

In May 2014, the Commission proposed a 2% flat rate financial correction for Ireland of €181.5m arising from its Conformity Clearance audits in 2009, 2010 and 2012.

The payments audited covered the period from 2008 to 2012 during which over €9 billion was paid to farmers in Ireland under the Direct Payment Schemes.

The Department of Agriculture strongly refuted the application of this proposed correction as disproportionate to the true level of risk involved and accordingly sought a hearing with the Conciliation Body.

The Conciliation Body met with the Commission and officials from the Department separately in December 2014, according to the Minister for Agriculture and the Commission held its position on the 2% flat rate correction before and during their meeting.

“The report of the Conciliation Body concluded that conciliation seemed within reach and that the Commission and my Department should continue to work together towards an agreed settlement.”

The Minister for Agriculture said his Department has maintained regular contact with the Commission and has completed further work to quantify the level of risk to EU funds.

This work was the subject of the Commission visit to Ireland during the third week of May 2014. Contact with the Commission is continuing on this issue, he said.